Aug 19, 2018
I think to fully appreciate how novel this is you have to understand how much I've always (always!) struggled with what my birthday meant, exactly. I have a weird relationship with birthdays, my own especially. It's never felt entirely healthy. The weirdness isn't necessarily related to aging (though truthfully I do try to hide my age from co-workers and professional people now because other people's ageism isn't something I want to have to deal with). I am nebulous number of years old!
I mean, you can celebrate a birthday without a number. The number has never been that important to me. I usually tell myself that I'm older than I actually am. I've done this since I was 8 or 9, at least, if not earlier. This is mostly because I was the second child and there's always your older sibling there, doing the things that you're 'not old enough' for yet. It's so easy to lie to yourself, to say that you're older. When I was 25, I told myself I was 27. At 28 I was already 30. Now I'm 30 for real, in clock time, and I don't even know what age is any more. I know I'm young, but not as young as I used to be.
No, my problem with birthdays was always with what it meant, exactly. Why it was special. Was I special? Did it make me a special person that day? But why? I knew what time I was born, and one year, in 3rd grade, waited with anticipation for the clock to hit the time (13:13). When the moment arrived, I stood up on my chair and announced it's my birthday!
My teacher told me to sit down.
Some people wear crowns on their birthdays and have whole weeks where they treat themselves to cake and self-indulgence. As I've gotten older, I hide my birthday now. Jealously guarding the actual date and time like a well-kept secret that I secretly wish someone else would also remember.
One year, in college, I opened up a bar tab for a bunch of friends and paid for everyone to get drunk at my expense at a fancy cocktail place in downtown Austin. Being small-time wealthy for a college student was fun because I could do things like that but in terms of meaning, it didn't mean anything. I haven't done it again.
What is a birthday? Why do we celebrate them? In America, the land of the individual, they seem, at least in the communities I grew up on, focused on the individual. A celebration of their existence. But now, that my sister is pregnant and I'm about to see a birthday happen, in almost real-time, I've realized that birthdays aren't about the individual. They don't make sense as an individual's celebration, because it isn't something for you, personally, to celebrate. It's a celebration of the day that you became family. That you gained a family, that a family welcomed a new member.
Honestly, I'd never really understood wedding celebrations before now either. But it makes sense. There's only a few times that a family gains a new member. Families, for better or worse, really are secret societies with very strict member requirements. Birthdays are your initiation into the clan, so are weddings. I see people talk a lot about how family is the friends that you make and the community that you build, and I do believe that's true but how do you celebrate 'births' in that family? Do you? You probably do, but just not in a way that any one explicitly recognizes. Do you change your birthdate, when you create a new family?
So why celebrate your birthday with friends, when the real celebration should be with your family? Maybe that's how we bridge the gap between birth family and made family -- we celebrate our birthdate with the people that we see as our present family. And that is special, you know.
Aug 11, 2018
strangest of strange.
at one point i wrote a note in my dream about how the police had forced me to sign a document giving up some right to a trial when and if they decided to deport me, yet i knew it was a lie and i worried what you would think if you found it, the lies, all.
we had been on a field trip. we went to a dance class, and sang an old song. on the way back, in a 7-person van, we passed carnage. cars were down below us, the river was full of them, chock full of hundreds, if not thousands. i was worried about us, about where they had come from, how they had ended up there, so many but our driver just kept going. we were fine. we came around a bend just in time to see a the last of a fleet of expensive, last minute buggies disappearing into the tail of some large boat. a joyride amidst the destruction. it was impossible to tell if the boat had, in some way, caused the wreckage of all the other cars. impossible to tell.
the next thing i knew i was alone at the strangest subway I've ever been to. it had these tracks that were more like moving in walkways. it was a long but narrow station. everyone spoke Finnish and I couldn't understand a thing. it was late. i took the wrong train, by accident, and ended up at this part of town where the trains only ran one direction. even getting back to the train platform felt impossible -- all the walkways were running in the wrong direction. every time someone new arrived, a crowd would cheer. it was here that i wrote the letter, the fake. as i was writing it i knew it was dramatic storytelling, expressing how trapped I felt, but also wondered what anyone would think if they found it.
i eventually went outside and it was quiet except for the roaring of a freeway in the distance. there were no cabs in sight and i couldn't communicate with the lone woman, standing there, not even with a paper map.
i resolved to sleep in the bushes.
Jul 15, 2018
I find myself wanting to report back from the fields of inquiry, rather than using this as a place for self expression.
Journaling is so wonderful because it really lets me organize my thoughts and gives me this great fodder of jumping off points for inquiry later, when I'm not in a productive or contemplative mood.
Two things have come up lately, both related to works that I'm currently reading.
The first is around investments and returns, precipitated by Benjamin Graham's Intelligent Investor book*. I'm about a quarter of the way through the book (I just finished chapter 4). There's some interesting discussion about T-Bills, municipal bonds, and preferred vs common stock. I spent some time tonight digging into how bonds are valued (what's a discount versus premium bond means, and how to approximately calculate their value to maturity). I added a couple questions around this to Anki, which feels super good. I figured out how to search for Houston municipal bonds in EMMA, and even ran a couple of calculations of what the YTM (yield to maturity) would be for a few of them. It's pretty cool that EMMA will show you the tax-preferred status of bonds in the titles. Some bonds are subject to the AMT. According to the internet, these trade at a bit of a better rate, so if you're not subject to AMT it might be a good deal. (Most salaried people aren't subject to AMT).
I also went through and looked up the current dividend status for all of my current stock holdings. About a quarter of the stocks that I own currently have a dividend. The highest rate was 6.69%, the lowest was 0.23%. Of course, rate is a function of the stock price itself so this fluctuates based on the stock's valuation. A dip in stock price would mean that dividend rate would go up.
The next things I want to look into are: how to invest in bonds using my existing trading account, and what is some currently available corporate paper rates. Write up a small Excel program that can calculate the total return of a stock pick based on both it's stock price gains plus dividends, ideally connected to some data source that can just keep the damn thing updated. Graham's function for how to value a stock was price + dividend return - inflation - tax rate. I'd love to get a calculator that can handle this for me.
Karthik and I were talking about soccer and I realized that soccer, as a game is still in this really young, malleable state. They update the rules for the game constantly, and no one seems super upset about it. They're really far ahead in terms of understanding how to cut out trolls and protect the game, too. They have this amazing policy of not replaying video of fans that rush the field, so as not to encourage copycats. It's both frustrating and also incredibly amazing. They care about the game, and making it better, and it really shows. I'm sure soccer has other problems, but as a game and community it seems really wholesome.
I want to start an ETF for soccer. It would grow marvelously over the next 30 years.
The second thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is networking. This particular train of thought was mediated by starting another book, Ingrid Burrington's Networks of New York. As a preface to reading it, I tried to write down everything that I already knew about computer networks, specifically the Internet, worked. It turns out that I get lost somewhere between "TCP is a packet formation and call/response protocol" and "RS232 is a way of sending data between two computers". What's missing is all of the routing and packet switching info.
Ingrid's book didn't really answer this for me**, so instead I've started reading RFC 791, which lays out the IP (Internet Protocol).
* It's the updated version that was annotated by Jason Zweig around 2002.
** It really reads like more of a who's who and where's what of NYC internet infrastructure.
Jul 6, 2018
Civil - funny how that's so close to civility. But think about it means for a second. Civil, like civil discourse. And civic. Community. With liberties. Like the liberty to walk down Main Street in your underwear. That's a "civil liberty" -- one that we, as a populace, grant to other members of our community. Yeah, it's funny but also really empowering to think about, just how simple it is to let someone walk down the street in their skivvies without interfering.
Civil liberties used to be amazingly localized. It literally was whatever you could do in public and get away with.
It's worth noting that in this definition, white dudes really do have greater civil liberties than the rest of us. They can literally walk down the street naked and we'll call it "streaking". Ok, not all men, but if you're in a group you're probably golden. I could also run down the street naked, and if I'm with a bunch of people (aka dudes) you'd also call that streaking. If it's just me you might call the cops. Or ... think I'm a slut? Though, technically, slutiness really does imply a certain level of clothing, ironically enough. Actually that's hard to imagine too. It's hard to imagine what running down the street naked looks like as a woman, how people would take it. Catcalls, lots of cat calls. Also probably people trying to follow you.
Civil liberties are a thing that we grant to one-another. It's a pact between members of a community, a locality. Every locality has these rules, they're just not talked about as much, especially on the news. Instead we concern ourselves with the greater, written laws. At least, that's the case on the Internet and in larger towns and cities. You still hear, occasionally about small town papers which devote a few columns to the local civil liberties people have tried taking (and largely failed, hence their appearance in the paper). Like a police report for someone picking all the apples off a neighbor's tree, or dumping waste in your bin.
Civil liberties feel increasingly like a thing we have to ask for from a higher power. We've moved the locus of our civil liberties from our actual, participatory communities to this small, concentrated body of about 500 people, at least in the aggregate.
Well, that was dumb.
Now it feels increasingly like we're in a position where we have to ask for our civil liberties, and defend them -- from what? Now the cops are arbiters of our civil liberties and sometimes I feel like we don't really question what that means about our community.
When you think about it, how much actual crime do you think is seen by police? Like, how much crime do they witness for themselves, in person, and decide to intervene as it's going on? Most of my understanding of actual police work comes from either the TV or being pulled over by a traffic cop, both of which are situations where police seeing crime in action are presented as the norm. (At least that cop had better have witnessed me committing crime otherwise what the hell is she doing pulling my ass over?).
When was the last time that you went to a large gathering of people that had some sort of authorized law figure present? Not as a private citizen, but in their official capacity of 'keeper of the peace', the Rule of Law there to observe the people, not to be of the people. We don't have large, unpoliced celebrations anymore. Not even carnavals! Jesus, not even carnavals. What kind of barbaric society have we become?
We're incredibly repressed. And we've done it to ourselves. We've gotten to the point where we're all, all of us, waiting to see what the tyrant does to our precious freedoms next. Or trying to see what we can get away with before The Law notices. That's Trump's game, anyway. We're not acting like citizens of a common, civil liberty community, but rather as prisoners who want to see how far they can push their luck before the whole thing comes crashing down.
Trump's gotten quite far, but he's not the only one.
What happened to us, as Americans? We used to be a community of smart, self-policing, self-assured men and women. Now we're scared. We're beating each other bloody out of fear, on both sides. We're not acting like communities we all feel as if we're fighting for our civil liberties.
Fighting for our civil liberties, not as a nation, as individuals.
We're doing this to ourselves. We, to each other. And for what?
Congress isn't the one raising the cost of tuition -- members of our community are. Congress isn't issuing debt trap credit cards and housing loans. Congress isn't doubling, or tripling the price of prescription medicines. Members of our community are. We are profiting off of others' misery. We are holding ourselves back from fixing everyone's fear and hatred.
A different way is possible. We can change. It's not nearly as hard as we make ourselves believe it is, because we've all, in some ways, forgotten what civil liberties actually are, at their root. It's not that hard, we just have to do it. We have to communicate, and we have to grant liberties to our community, to live their lives. All of us, together, with or without our "government" can get broadband for all. We can grant each other civil liberties.
Us. Each and every one.
Jul 4, 2018
You know, I don't really know what it's like to be a writer. Writing comes naturally to me, but I literally have no idea what my life would be like if I sat at home and spent hours writing every day. The scariest thing is that I know I could do it. If writing at home were exactly like the kind of writing that I did in my journal, I could do it, no problem.
I don't, I think, because I struggle to think what the point or purpose of that writing would be. Undriven writing. Actually, all writing sort of strikes me as dangerously superfluous. Superfluous in that I'm afraid I might write too much and not ever be able to go back and read it all.
Sometimes I think that the reason that I don't write more, like actually truly write more, is because I'm afraid that if I do I won't have enough time to go back and read it all.
Twitter is like the journal that I never could bring myself to have.
Does the Twitter tweet for me? I tweet for thee.
Things I've been obsessed with, a list in no particular order:
Werner Herzog. I went so far as to read/watch a good number of the films and books he lists as required reading for his film workshop that he runs from time to time. I wonder how many people actually apply every year. Do you think it's in the hundreds? The thousands? For some reason I find it hard to believe that more than a few hundred people spend enough time and energy making film that they have the requisite raw material to submit to Herzog for a film. That guy that did the amazing one man screen show. Do you think he even knows who Herzog is? Do you think that film would be enough to get him into the class? These are good questions to ask.
Kelly Wearstler. When I first saw her work, featured in a Architectural Digest issue via the house of a woman she worked with, that she had helped do the interior decorating for, I was out and out horrified. It was really awful, but in a consistent way. For some reason, I found her on instagram and started following her account and I really love it. I love Kelly Wearstler's style. Her weird big, exotic material hands. Geometric forms, sharp black edges. A certain heaviness. I love it. I love it love it love it.
I once spent an entire year trying to get a picture of the sun either rising or setting. I think I managed to get about 2/3rds of the days.
Richard Feynman. I haven't read all his books, but they're all gems. Did you know he learned Portuguese, like me? His book on light, QED, is one of my all time favorite books. I forget sometimes how much I like thinking about the universe. I told my mom about it once and I think at some level she was surprised that I was able to read it? I don't know it was weird.
The Wizard of Oz. I softcore wanted to be Dorothy for as long as I can remember. I didn't name my dog Toto because she's not a Toto, but she does really look a lot like Toto. I discovered the actual Wizard of Oz books when I was in grade school and read all of them. Like literally as many of them as I could get my hands on. Some summers we used to go and stay at my grandparent's for a few days or a week or two and one time my Grandmother took us to the central library and it was crazy good. I loved it. They had a bunch of Wizard of Oz books that I had never read. Until I had a teacher in the 6th grade who actually really truly loved the Wizard of Oz in this really outwardly obvious way and rather than bond with her over our shared love of Oz, I got really weird about it and realized that I must truly not have loved Oz and Dorothy as much as this woman did so well you know that was that. I spent a lot of time analyzing how my affinity for the Wizard of Oz as a story wasn't as deep or authentic as this woman who taught me English.
Jane Jacobs. I've read almost all of her books. I've currently got her first book, the only one she ever published as a Butzner, in my physical to read stack. It's the only one that she's authored that I haven't read.
Hannah Arendt. She's so incredibly good, her books are worth the energy it takes to get through them. I'm constantly amazed at how much writing she manages to put out that's so incredibly well tied together. I'm not sure I could ever write that much, that coherently. So far I've read just her big works: Eichmann in Jerusalem, Origins of Totalitarianism, and The Human Condition. They're all incredibly different in terms of style and goals, and it's impressive how wide ranging and insightful they are. I have a short book of hers, On Violence, in my to read stack.
BItcoin and the Lightning network. This is an incredibly recent obsession. I read one book on Bitcoin three months ago and now I'm obsessed. It's embarrassing, how quickly and vocally I feel like I get into things.
Hardware. Like kind of low key, but it feels low key in the way that my Wizard of Oz affinity is low key. I'm incredibly obsessed with it and yet it seems entirely passive, in some weird ways.
House furnishing and decoration and trends. It started with the Kon Mari book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up. I got really into working with space. You know, a lot of things in my life feel cluttered right now. My clothing, the upstairs room that's supposed to be my workspace. Where I keep my keys and Ginger's leash. The shoes downstairs. My career. Personal relationships. How I'm doing in terms of working toward actual life goals, and not imagined ones.
Jul 3, 2018
Jun 30, 2018
May 28, 2018
It's slow going because of how incredibly dense it is. I'm pretty sure that what would be 100 pages in most sci fi books of the day are crammed into 20 pages in this particular copy.
I'm not firmly into the last section, Totalitarianism. I finished up chapter 10 today (The Temporary Alliance between the Mob and the Elite) and got through the first half of chapter 11 (Totalitarian Propaganda).
Generally speaking, while it's obvious that Arendt has read thousands of pages of source material and has a very good understanding of the order of events and internal machinations of the Bolshevik and Nazi movements, she doesn't do a great job of laying out the historical events. As a reader coming almost 80 years later, with little to no knowledge of the series of events or speeches or rallies of either the Nazis or the Bolshevic movement, it's sometimes hard to follow the series of events that she describes. I understand that her aim isn't to provide an account of events, but rather to provide analysis, the situate the happenings in a broader framework and provide a commentary overlay that organizes the various aspects of the phenomenon into categories and tendencies, like "A Classless Society" and 'Race Thinking" and "The Decline of the Nation-State". She does this brilliantly, but I am feeling a bit as though I'm going to need to do a lot more reading in order to fully understand the underlying events that her analysis sits on top of. Luckily, her footnotes and bibliography provide a great starting place. Unluckily, I don't really think I have the time to read them now. There's too many other things that I'm interested in reading after this. Namely, de Toqueville's Democracy in America feels incredibly urgent. And then for work, I feel some amount of urgency to really dig into Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor. Finally, Debt, the First 5,000 Years looks amazing.
Notes from the section on the elites alliance with the masses:
- Arendt's analysis points towards a certain vengeance of the "elite" to punish the society that wouldn't accept them, or take them seriously. Thus, the rich and powerful align themselves with the masses with the goal of forcing society to listen to them, and finally take them seriously, if not by just completely wiping them out then at least elevating their own platform and sycophants to the level of culture previously occupied by a 'high society' that has largely been barred to them. It's notable that Arendt's use of the word 'elite' wouldn't be recognizable today. There has definitely been a categorization of a cultural elite that certain want to be rich and powerful people (cough Trump) have thrust themselves upon, using the anger of the mob to propel themselves there. We don't call Trump's well-to-do friends the elite, but we do recognize them as a portion of society that is wealthy and not the hoi polloi, and yet, they aren't part of high society or society in general in any recognizable way. We don't really have a word or cultural signifier for the Trumps, or at least didn't used to. "Elites" has been co-opted to mean something else.
- "I am the movement, and the movement is me". It's fascinating how closely the Trump movement is tied to the cult of personality. I didn't realize how incredibly 'Fuhrer' based the Nazi movement was; it's interesting to see the parallels between 'Trumpites', who ostensibly wouldn't have a movement at all without Trump. Trump does an ok job of recognizing his followers (the red states map, the call outs to 'my people', trying to get help to people that voted for him), yet doesn't seem to have near the grasp of loyalty.
Notes on propaganda:
- I hadn't realized how much of Nazi propaganda was centered on secrecy. There were things that those not in the movement weren't allowed to know, and the organization on a whole was entirely geared toward keeping a knowledge gap between those considered insiders of the party and those that were mere sympathizers or external audiences. The Nazis would say one thing to the external audience, things that were lighter versions of what their actual intentions were.
- At the same time, they got credit for being 'forthright' in a way that no 'established' or self-respecting politician would. The Nazis campaigned on antisemitism and were open about checking potential party members' birth charts. Trump has been anything but quiet about the things he wants to do with regards to throwing out immigrants and building a wall. But the people of the Right have been wanting a wall and complaining loudly about immigrants for decades.
- A large amount of persuasive totalitarianism begins by pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of a system, and boldly claiming the immorality that the establishment deludes itself into saying it doesn't do, but that it actually does. This is why the current political candidates that don't accept corporate money are the most powerfully poised as an anti-dote to our current political malaise.
- The Bolsheviks and the Nazis were a lot smarter than I feel I've been conditioned to give them credit for.
- I didn't realize that Stalin's doublespeak was a nod to a deep internalization of the Hegelian dialectic.
Apr 29, 2018
I bought a bunch of books today. I went a bit wild in the Urban Studies and Econ section of the bookstore. But it was hard not to! They had all of these books that I've been wanting to read but haven't committed to yet there in one place.
David Graeber's Debt, 5000 years. I would have said no except that I realized that it was written by an anthropologist and I'm interested in debt because I'm hoping that it explains some questions I have about monetary policy. Questions that I think that only reading about history can help answer, not reading theory.
Last Interviews with Jane Jacobs. I haven't read any Jacobs in a while, but I've had this one on my long term reading list. It's just 4 interviews, so it's pretty short. I'm also trying to buy books that I have a high probability of actually reading and interviews are things I always enjoy. The last interview in the book is one of my favorite. It was originally printed in the back of my copy of The Question of Sepratism and I've even gone so far as to illegally transcribe it onto my other blog. Lol.
Some book on BART. Basically a history book of how BART got made. I did a lot of reading when I lived in NYC to prep myself for giving tours of 34th street and really loved how learning about the history of the city changed my relationship with it, made it feel more like a place that I deeply understood and loved. I think I'd like to read more books on the history of SF, and BART seems like a wonderful place to start.
The second book in the Binti sci fi series, Home. I read the first one, more like a chapbook than a novel and accidentally bought the 3rd one, so I needed the 2nd one. I didn't love the first but feel like I should finish the series up seeing as they're pretty goddamn short.
I really splurged on Michael Lewis's books. Dog Eared Books had both Panic and The Big Short, and I know that I'll read and really enjoy both of them, so I went ahead and indulged. I really really love the stories that Michael chooses to tell, and I'm 100% confident that I'll actually end up reading these so I don't feel too bad about spending the money on them.
It's a lowkey goal of mine to read most to all of both Michael Lewis's and Hannah Arendt's works. They had a new collection of works and correspondences of Arendt's at the store that I was *sorely* tempted to pick up, Thinking without a Banister. But! I'm in the middle of Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism and have her On Violence at home, and figured that was more than enough to see me through. Also, a short note on collections, I'm not always a fan of reading excerpts and strange collections of notes from authors. There's something to be said about a finished, fully considered and published work. Notes and one off ideas are nice, but they don't really get to the crux of the piece, you know?
Other books that I've got in my 'reading' stack that I wish I had more time to devote to: Benjamin Graham's Intelligent Investor. Bunny Huang's book on Making Things. Jane Jacob's first book, Constitutional Chaff. Papers for the Lightning network. A short book of Wittenstein's. The Karl Marx book that Kate Losse recommended I read and now I can't remember the name of. Oops.
Apr 22, 2018
I don't know, maybe that's rude to discount an intellectual because their brain found a pattern and they didn't let go of it.
It's not endless repetition that I'm referring to, it's the sort of progress you'd expect from a truly deep thinker: a movement of building thought and connections to a prior thought that they'd had. By reading their works in chronological order, you can get a great understanding of how their thinking progressed, and how these different experiences that they've had in life have contributed and shaped their world view.
That being said, I can't help but find myself discounting them, or at least, feeling a bit disappointed that I'm only ever going to get one or maybe two interesting threads or viewpoints from a single thinker.
At the same time, when I find myself retreading old thoughts, there's a similar amount of dread. I feel like I'm committing a sin that I've condemned others for. It's a method of stifling, of self-abnegation driven by this need to continue to evolve as a world view, to bring forth something new and interesting not just for the invisible audience that I've built for myself (look, I know you're not invisible, the invisibility is the host of ideas that exist in my head and nowhere else; they're entirely internal thoughts that only I recognize as duplicates and yet, all the same, castigate myself for having had them anew). There's nothing wrong with retreading past points, it's incredibly hard not to do but all the same I want to escape it.
I think that a lot of the self-castigation comes from an overwhelming sense of cowardice. It's cowardice that leaves me in the same place; it's cowardice that keeps me from accepting and embracing the things that I actually do want. The repetition may be the thoughts, but it's also, more generically a continual repetition of cowardice that keeps me from exploring the ideas that I have, that keeps me from executing, that keeps me stuck in the same world view.
It's fun and incredibly rare to find authors who manage to overcome, somewhat, their worldview problem. Arendt is probably of the highest order, but even with her, if you zoom out far enough you can still fit her thinking into 'historiological social interpretation of the human world order'. Well, sort of. You have to read both her Origins of Totalitarianism and the Human Condition to fully understand it, I think.
And even more broadly, as fresh and insightful that Arendt is, I still find a certain amount of 'datedness' in her writing, her context and her peers and the thoughts of others that surrounded her at the time of her writing that find their way into her work, inextricably, the same sort of contextualization that none of us are immune from. Philosophy aims to be universal, yet even it finds itself entrenched in an endless stream of context. Kant, as Arendt points out, is incomprehensible without understanding Galileo. Galileo makes little sense without a fuller understanding of the Catholic Church, which comes from Roman times and so on and so forth.
All worldviews are entwined, and you cannot escape if not the singular world view of your own, at least reflecting the worldview of your age. The references and allusions that are made in work, the turns of phrase, the things that you mention as being 'worrysome' that all later become laughable or some inside joke for which later generations have lost all necessary context.
Context is king because it is the shape of your reality.
Apr 14, 2018
There's always a lot to think about.
I started a new job but I don't want to tell anyone where I'm working. At least, no one on the Internet. It's not a secret, but I'm not talking about it. Not yet, anyway. It's kind of nice to know that you don't know what I'm doing now. That where I am is unknown, except to those that know it. Silence breeds seclusion. I'll take it.
Maybe some day I'll tell you.
Some day that isn't today.
A new star has risen. I can feel it. A star rises, but the world beneath it stays the same.
Some words mean nothing, but are true nonetheless.
I know more now than I've ever known. Knowing that lets me know I'm happy.
Feb 9, 2018
words are the worst thing you could ever say.
we don't value words enough anymore and that's why we're
suddenly so susceptible to foreign propaganda.
your words matter. a lot.
Editor's Note: the following is submitted without editing or checks for correction.
and yet i seem so incredibly unable to sit down and get mine out. i'm trying to get all these other things done instead, to not get distracted, but the reality is that not writing feels like the procrastination.
everything else is just me procrastinating from writing.
if all i ever did was write all the time i think i would be a very happy person. i don't think i'd run out of things to say.
there are blog posts that i owe myself. here's a short list of them:
- reactions from arendt's eichmann in jerusalem
- an update on the moon clock project
- a personal life update
- an essay about gentrification and home ownership and san francisco housing politics
- an essay on why i want to leave california
- an update on Mandarin learning.
Reactions: Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem
Right now, we're in the midst of an Uber vs Waymo case. Waymo is suing Uber over misappropriation of trade secrets, or something. To keep up with the court updates, I've been following Sarah Jeong who lives tweets the court room action every day. Sarah's part of a new breed of immediate courtroom relaying, but in some ways Sarah's tweeting follows in the footsteps of other court reporters, the most recent of which comes to mind is Hannah Arendt's missives from the Eichmann in Jerusalem, published first in the New Yorker as articles and then, later, compiled into a book.
I'd be curious to see if Jeong can turn her tweet storms into a book at the end of the Uber x Waymo trial; it'd be interesting to see what the result of a tweet reporting process is compared to a missive based storytelling style.
I digress. Let's talk about Eichmann, about what Hannah saw in Jerusalem, about what she discovered about the limits and the legacy of law.
I don't think I can say it as nicely as Arendt does, but in her epilogue, written ostensibly much later, she talks about how the judgement of the Israeli courts fell short of its goal of providing a framework for crimes against humanity, such as genocide, to be tried on an international scale.
For see, the problem with Eichmann was that he didn't kill anyone. At least, not himself. Eichmann's crimes are of the white collar variety -- there were layers of men and orders separating himself from any of the front line action of murder. Rather, Eichmann's role in the massacres were merely administrative -- he was brutally efficient at arranging transportation and logistics for moving hundreds of thousands of people on an already clogged train network. A skill that, in the aggregate facilitated the murder of millions.
But who were these Jews that were murdered? They were disowned by their countries, rendered stateless by the apparatus that was the German government, and then emigrated elsewhere, or, if there was no elsewhere available, eastward to one of the killing centers.
Eichmann was an expert on Jewish affairs. Originally, Eichmann billed himself as a Jewish expert. He used his 'expertise' in Judaism to become the first point of contact between Jewish communities and the Nazi regime. He organized Jewish Councils that, then in turn, helped to send their communities to slaughter. At first, it was merely emigration. The Jewish Council could honestly and firmly tell themselves that they were just helping their fellow Jews to escape bad conditions. What they didn't know, at least not at first, was that they were sending their communities to their deaths. Once Eichmann's team had successfully exported a Jewish Council's population, they exported the Jewish Council itself.
The goal was judenrein, or, in other words, a Jew free territory.
You know, it's strange to say but also true that if the United States had opened their doors widely and unequivocally to Jewish emigrants from Europe that not nearly as many would have been killed. Eichmann exported in earnest first. But after a while, he found that there was no where else to send Jews. Maybe they would have sent more to Israel, if it hadn't had been Palestine and heavily opposed by the British. The first Israelis owe much of their early influx of immigrants to the Nazis' desire to see Jews leave Europe. And then even more after, once survivors realized there was nowhere to return to.
Arendt's book on Eichmann, more than any other book I have read, clearly outlined the extent and the mechanics of the Holocaust. Why didn't we read it earlier? Sure, Anne Frank's Diary is not bad reading, but in terms of expressing the total impact and political implications of the Jewish Question and how the Nazis Tried to Solve it, it's not nearly as broad and concise as Arendt's telling of Eichmann's work. Because so much of it was his work -- the exports, that is. The movement of people.
And yet, can you charge a man with murder for the mere act of moving people? Even if he was doing so under direct orders? How much does the law of the land,, HItler's will in this case, absolve you of responsibility from your actions? Eichmann admitted to exporting Jews to death, but he claimed innocence in the killings.
You know, Eichmann does remind me a lot of the question of responsibility that arose lately around the Wells Fargo scandal wherein thousands of Wells Fargo employees were opening accounts for customers without their consent. The customers ended up with black marks on their credit and charges for accounts they didn't even know existed; Wells Fargo then fell to the unhappy task of assigning blame for the hundreds if not thousands of front line workers' actions. The workers were just following orders to meet quotas. WHo should be responsible for their malfeasance? To what extent do the quota setters share responsibility for their actions? I think in this case some people's heads rolled but I'm honestly not sure. What then. What now.
God I'm so tired. I should go to sleep. But there's so much more to tell you. So much more.
Jan 17, 2018
The first thing I saw when I got to Portland was a legion of homeless bums, wandering and chilling in the streets. You might say I just hopped off the train at the wrong stop (Skidmore Fountain) but Google tells me it was indeed the right one for Voodoo doughnuts. I didn't end up getting a donut; I felt too conspicuous in my brand new grey Keds, clutching my phone hunting for directions. Instead I headed down to a cafe called Mother's to hole up from the cold.
The smell of unwashed people sticks with you. Whatever happened to public baths and poor houses?
The next thing I noticed is that there's lots of trains, that go all kinds of useful, practical places. Like downtown, and the convention center, and the airport. I was impressed at how incredibly walker friendly the train lines are. They go right through the center of town, and stop at street level. No stairs. I bought a day pass and just hopped on and off all day, but no one asked me for proof of fare, not ever. It reminded me a lot of the trains in Berlin, except cheaper and with warmer weather, somehow.
The weather was super dour. It was overcast all day and started raining at 3p. It hasn't let up since.
All the weird that SF used to be has strong echoes in Portland. People here are weird, in that fun funky Austin weird kind of way. I've heard that SF used to be weird. SF isn't weird anymore.
People talk a lot about how Portland isn't very diverse; it feels like the citizens of Portland have accepted this fact as a personal challenge and gone out of their way to instead showcase their individuality. Rock on Portland.
Women in weirdly overlarge button ups; butchesque.
I swear I saw a futsal arena and a pet funeral home out the train window on my way into the city from the airport. Should I know what futsal is? I don't know what futsal is.
Weirdly expensive shops. I wandered into a clothing shop near the Powell bookstore and was shocked to discover the pair of shoes.I picked up cost $500. The overcoat I wanted was $1,250. Yeah, right. How do people in Portland have this kind of money. What do people in Portland do that have this kind of money? Don't tell me tech exists here too; tech only admits to existing in SF.
Chatty airport staff who seem to really care about the rules. Please, don't talk to me. I don't want to answer your questions about the contents of my (yes really) empty pockets or the type of electronics I am currently carrying. And please just let the lady with two carry on bags and a purse do her thing. That purse is our repatriations for the loss of usable pockets in feminine clothing.
Powell's was nice, but I like the stock at Green Apple on the Park better. It's not as extensive, but they also don't have leagues of expired resale books. The number of sections Powell stocks is impressive, but I wasn't super awed by the contents of a few of their niche segments; a lot of it seemed undercurated, like they had just collected a set of titles without ready access to an expert in the field. For contrast, the small collection of books at SF's Botanical Gardens' gift shop is amazingly focused on botany and gardening books, especially for the Bay Area. Make no mistake, Powell had some great Portland/Oregon curation; I'm more complaining about their paltry Opera scores and electronics sections -- why even have one if you're not going to flesh it out appropriately?
I'm not sure what I think of Portland.
Jan 10, 2018
On the face of it, I read far less books this year than in the past two years. In 2016 I read 52 books, roughly one book per week. This year I reported reading just over half that many, 29. There's a few reasons for this discrepancy. The first is that I simply read less books.
Secondly, in 2016 I counted books that I decided not to read. I did this because "deciding not to" was a theme of 2016 and I wanted to celebrate the books that I chose to put aside. I took several books off of my reading list in 2017, but it felt so natural it doesn't seem worth counting.
According to Goodreads, these 29 books contained 10,289 pages. The oldest book was Eric Hoffer's True Believers; the newest, Phillip Pullman's first installment of his new Book of Dust series, was published in Octobe of 2017. Believe it or not 3 of the books that I read were published in 2017. Talk about quick turn around time!
Looking at the histogram of when the books I read were published, I feel that I did a pretty good job of reading a mix of older books while keeping up on new works.
On a whole, I feel like the quality of the books I read this year was higher than last year's. I really enjoyed the majority of the books that I read in 2017, and found a few new favorite authors!
Authors I'd Love to Read More of in 2018Hannah Arendt. Hannah's writing and clarity of insight is boss level good. Her book The Human Condition is, at least on Wikipedia, quoted as being one of the best books of the 21st century. I do not think that they are exaggerating. In terms of depth and quality of analysis of real world phenomena, I'd put her on par with if not better than Jane Jacobs. I'm really looking forward to reading more of her work in 2018, particularly Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Michael Lewis. Lewis is a master storyteller. His books paint the most vivid pictures of the people involved, in a really concise and clear way. He does such a great job of contextualizing everything; it's really inspiring. If I could write like anyone, I would want to write like Lewis does. I wasn't expecting to enjoy his books as much as I did.
Stories about the way the world works, the people that work inside of it; books that inquired into the nature of human work and trade and thought; I tried out a few new fiction series, none of them really stuck. I read my first ever Chinese fiction and realized what an enormous super power Asia will be for the 21st century. I read books about urban structures and power systems within them. I learned a lot about the specific history of some niche industries and phenomena.
Top PicksUsually my top picks for books are the ones that contain vital human truths that everyone must know. This year's a bit different -- instead I picked books that I really enjoyed reading. Vital truths aren't always the most enjoyable!
The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
Fortune's Formula, William Poundstone
Book Synopses / Hot TakesStories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
This is a collection of short works of speculative fiction. I found the central conceit of the stories to be incredibly good, but the actual prosic execution lacking in spark. More than anything, the tone and pacing of the stories didn't feel very natural. Worth reading for the brilliant story lines alone, however.
Creativity, Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I'm rating this book low because I found it lacking in rigor and insight; the writing was just plain boring. However! Csikszentmihalyi attempts to find commonalities between people that he terms Creatives with a capital C -- the difference being that a Creative has an impact on a community; whereas a normal creative doesn't necessarily build a practice around their work. Another thing that Csikszentmihallyi points out, but without much extrapolation or further exploration, is that most of the individuals his team marked out as 'Creative' lost one or both parents at an early age. I personally can't stop thinking about this; in particular what does it say about the parent child relationship? How has a rising age limit on people changed our ability to build independence; what is the relationship then between independence and creativity? These questions are not addressed in this book, but I find them incredibly relevant; our politicians are on average older than ever. On a personal note, all of my grandparents and parents are still alive (and I just turned 30!). Is it normal for humans to live for 30 years without a close personal loss? Has this affected my own independence/creativity? Hard to say.
The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher
This is the tell-all novel of Fisher's 3 month affair with co-star Harrison Ford during the filming of the first Star Wars film. This book convinced me that Star Wars owes its success to both George Lucas's genius and Carrie Fisher's wonderful love for life. Fisher passed in Dec 2016; I'm glad she got this book out before she went.
A Manual For Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin
In isolation, I think Lucia Berlin writes amazing stories. As a collection of work, however, the themes and situations that her characters find themselves in struck me as incredibly repetitive. Make no mistake, Berlin is a masterful storyteller, but I got burnt out.
Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street, William Poundstone
I love books that tell stories about people in real life, while teaching you something about the world. This book does that; it clearly shows how the Martingale betting strategy works while telling the story of the men who created and refined it. I know considerably more about the world of bet making now, with the historical context to understand it. So good.
City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Mike Davis
This book is weird. It doesn't really fit into any category outside of a certain genre of woke literature. It tells the history of L.A. through various aspects of the city's geography. It's incredibly good and also incredibly dense; it took me forever to read this book. More than anything, I blame this book for slowing down my reading progress in 2017. Definitely worth a read if you're interested in urban spaces and the political power of space. Also, being new to California, it was an AMAZING primer into the history of land use and speculation in Cali, and more than anything really drove home why the rent is so goddamn expensive here. History matters yo!
La frantumaglia, Elena Ferrante
This English translation of Elena Ferrante's was released in Oct 2016; I didn't get around to reading it until early 2017. I was absolutely floored by Ferrant'es Neopolitano series; Frantumaglia is a collection of Ferrante's letters writing about her writing process, her relationship to her readers, and some further context for the inspiration for her work. Ferrante is well-known for her secretiveness -- Elena Ferrante is in fact a pseudonym; no one knows for certain who the actual author is. I enjoyed reading her personal correspondences and interviews but eventually found them to be a bit repetitive.
Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis
This is such a good book. Lewis is a masterful storyteller. In Liar's Poker, he walks us through the politics and personalities of the Salomon Brother's trading firm in the 80's, when the mortgage credit derivative desks were getting their start. It's a must read for anyone who wants to better understand how trading desks actually work, and why the Sarbanes Oxley act was so incredibly necessary. More than anything, this outlines the history of mortgage backed securities, more or less foreshadowing the crash of '08.
The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, James Howard Kunstler
This is embarrassing. I honestly don't remember much about this book. I think I read it too close in time to Organization Man; they both largely trace the same phenomenon but through different lenses. Org Man focuses very acutely on a single neighborhood and the psychology of large organizations; Geography of Nowhere focuses more on the built environment and the impact of a car based culture. Good but apparently not incredibly memorable.
Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur
A collection of very personal poems. A good, quick read. Honestly I think I would have enjoyed these a lot more had I read them 6 years ago.
The Organization Man, William Whyte
I found out about Whyte's book through a biography of Jane Jacobs; I believe that Whyte was an editor or peer of Jane at the Architectural Forum, but don't quote me on this. I loved the close, psychological profile that Whyte paints of the type of individual that does well in corporate environments. In a large way, it echoed the guardian syndrome that Jane spells out in Systems of Survival. His comparison of organization men to socialist societies is A+; as well as his in depth dive into the communal aspects of early suburban living. My favorite thing about this book is the appendix where he tells you how to beat personality tests that are given to you by corporations. It would have come in handy back in high school -- I failed the first one I ever took, for a job working as a cashier at a suburban grocery store chain.
Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, Jessa Crispin
All I remember from this book is thinking how terribly written it was. It was one of two books published in 2017 that I read and is a stark reminder of why Nicholas Nassim Taleb recommends reading older books as they've mostly already been weeded out for you. While it might have had good points based on my recollection of the terrible writing, I don't recommend this book.
The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, Samuel Florman
This book is an older but incredibly relevant collection of essays and thoughts on the ethical responsibility of engineers and the communities that engineers work in. He's got a great, early essay in the appendix on why getting more women into technical careers is important for the robustness of engineering solutions and the societal impact of engineering innovations.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis
When Moneyball came out, I was an undergrad at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. A lot of my professors and fellow classmates were incredibly enamored with this book; for that reason alone I stayed away from it. That was a mistake. This book is pure bloody genius. If anything, its a great story of how the commerce mindset disrupts a traditionally guardian industry of picking ball players. I'm glad Michael Lewis chose to tell this story.
Crazy Rich Asians, #1 #2 & #3 Kevin Kwan
This fictional series of books about a rich family in Singapore is pure beach reading material. It's wonderful and satisfying and witty in all the right ways. I'm actually looking forward to the movies, if nothing else for the sets and clothing. I loved this book because it changed the way that I think about Asia and Asian wealth. There's a fuck ton of money in Asia; it's no wonder American companies are all into breaking into the Asian market. It was also really interesting to see what wealthy people care about: not just fancy clothes but having the most exclusive clothes that money can buy. Rarity, exclusivity, difficulty in procuring a thing, big events where you could showcase your ability to get the rare thing -- these are the conceits that rich people spend their time with. Well, some rich fictional people, at any rate.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
It felt appropriate to read Joan Didion during my first year in California, a transplant from New York City. I connected with the stories in this book on a really personal level. Joan's writing is wonderful and her perspective and clarity of vision very refreshing.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1), George R.R. Martin
Guys, I hate to break it to you but George Martin is never finishing Game of Thrones. At least we have that in common. I picked this one up because my roommate was giving up this gorgeous set of the first (and only) five books; I really enjoyed it, especially getting to know the backstory that the TV show largely leaves out. I feel no real pressure to finish them though, so while I enjoyed them I really enjoy reading other books more.
Reflections on the Human Condition, Eric Hoffer
A collection of quips from Eric Hoffer's writings. I found it punchy, but overall harder to understand without the complete context that Hoffer wrote them in. If you're gong to read Hoffer, I wouldn't recommend this one.
The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1), Cixin Liu
A sci-fi novel about aliens and physics in a post-Cultural Revolution China. Good but not a super fun read; I think the flow of the narrative suffered a lot in translation. I don't necessarily mean in word choice, but also probably in narrative style that doesn't translate culturally. Or maybe not. The degree to which this book expressed novel and compelling uses of technology in a fantastical/futuristic setting radically changed the way that I think about China's capacity for technological innovation. I expect to see a lot of really amazing new technological advances coming from purely Chinese innovators in the next decade. That being said, I don't feel any pressing need to read the sequels to this book.
A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1), V.E. Schwab
I've had this book on my reading list for a long time now, mostly based on the cover art alone. Guilty. It was a good novel, but not the best fantasy novel I've ever read. Chalk up another one in the Series I Enjoyed The First Book of But Probably Won't Read The Rest column.
Astronomical Algorithms, Jean Meeus
Once I figured out what Meeus was talking about, this book is good fun. This is hands down the best book for computational astronomy. The preliminary chapter on debugging computer programs quaint and also incredibly useful. The equations in it are what power the Moon Clock project I did last year too. I still find the amount of human observation that must have gone into compiling the equations for this book downright baffling. It's a textbook, so I'm not sure I'd suggest reading straight through it, but if you need to figure out some planetary movement shit, this is the book you need. At least, for the next few hundred years before all of our equations are outdated. Those planets be moving, yo!
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, Robert Pirsig
If there was an Honorable Mention for favorite books of 2017, this would get one. This book is hands down the best reconciliation between Western and 'Eastern' philosophy that I've ever seen. It's also incredibly relevant. Pirsig gives the best definition of art that I've ever seen, and explains in words that I would have never been able to find what's wrong with pure, Aristotelian logic. This is the kind of logic that I see men in power use to the detriment of my women friends (and myself) all the goddamn time, and it felt so good to see this clear, logical yet firm and absolute rebuttal of the nature of pure logic. Robert Pirsig passed away in April 2017.
Art is anything you can do well. Anything you can do with Quality.
Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase
I picked this book up on a recommendation; it's an attempt to depict four different futures of humanity, if you were to hold a few general trends steady. I found the framework superficially interesting but lacking in any clear or original conclusive, analytical thought. I'd pass.
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer
Eric Hoffer has a dim view of mankind, especially movements of mankind. In this book, he traces the forces and personalities that play into mass movements, for better or for worse. His points felt uber-relevant reading for the first year of Trump's presidency, especially the part about how traitors and staunch loyalists have this strange tendency of being one and the same person. Belief in a cause sometimes can lead you to undermine the integrity of what you're fighting for...
The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt
There is no other book like this one. It is dense, rich in revelation, and highly applicable and understandable. It was also incredibly slow reading, but so incredibly rewarding for the effort. This book is hard to summarize because it covers so goddman much material in so little pages. But, I'll try anyway. Hannah's Human Condition takes us on a journey through the history of the modes of human activity: labor, work and action. This is philosophy though, so she ties in the history of Greecian slave society; what the absolute truth of an unknowable future means, truly, for human interactions; the impact of Galilean astronomical revelations on the scope of philosophic thought; and more. This book is goddamn great. Read it, and reconsider everything you know about your life.
Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
This book is a compendium of the history of salt. I picked it up for two reasons. One is that Jane Jacobs mentions salt making in her fanciful description of an ancient city's economical growth (The Economy of Cities) and I was curious in what ways salt served as a backing for ancient economies. The other is that, considering the breakdown of modern survival systems, I was curious what value salt might have. In other words, should I stockpile a 25-lbs bag of salt from Amazon now, and hope that I can use it to barter for goods in some bleak future scenario where the global trade network has temporarily collapsed? The answer, it seems, is a bit complicated, but in case you're wondering, salt is pretty key in two ways for 'pre-modern' humans: food preservation and anti-bacterial properties. If global trade breaks down, it'd probably be handy to have around; in case you're wondering Morton's Salt is a privately owned company.
La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), Philip Pullman
I love Philip Pullman's narrative style. Even though I could tell this was written for a younger audience in mind, I still really enjoyed reading Philip's prose. This is the first book in a new series (trilogy?) about Dust, the magical property that featured prominently in his first trilogy, His Dark Materials. La Belle Sauvage tells the early story of Lyra came to live at Oxford. A really fast paced a good read; of all the series I started and did not finish in 2017, The Book of Dust is the one most likely to find it's way onto my reading list in the future (the other books haven't been published yet!).
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